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ISRAEL: Benjamin Netanyahu's first interview on Arab network

July 21, 2011 |  7:04 am

Alarabiyatv

"Everything is on the table; we just need to get to the table," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Al Arabiya TV in an exclusive interview airing Thursday evening.

According to advance excerpts from the 30-minute interview, the Israeli leader answered questions on a wide range of issues, including the peace process and regional regime changes.

It was Netanyahu's first appearance on an Arab television outlet.

Why now?...

With the Palestinians working intensively on their diplomatic initiative to seek United Nations recognition of statehood in September, this is the time for Israel to convey its message, said Ofir Gendelman, appointed last year as the first official Arabic-language spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister's office

Netanyahu's message, Gendelman said on Israel Radio this week, is twofold. The diplomatic message is his willingness to immediately return to negotiations with the Palestinians, without preconditions. And the meta message is that Arab public opinion is important to us, the spokesman said.

The common perception of Israeli outreach, known locally as hasbara, is that it aims mostly for American and European audiences. "But we live in the Middle East, which has a vibrant media scene, and we must speak to Arab public opinion," said Gendelman, noting that speaking directly to Arab media allows for an unfiltered message rather than depending on journalists reporting from Israel and their interpretations.

And some observers say that direct talk has become necessary: If the old pattern of relations between Israel and the Arab world involved settling things discreetly through top channels, the Arab spring, an expressly bottom-up phenomenon, has changed that. The Arab public now has a say, and Israel realizes -- or should -- that it needs to talk to that public, these observers say.

The choice of channel is interesting. Al Jazeera still has the lead in Arab viewership, but Al Arabiya is considered more balanced, say Israeli observers, noting also that relations between Al Jazeera's local bureau and Israeli authorities have been strained at times. The station hosting Netanyahu has a local staff but sent an outside interviewer from Dubai for the occasion, according to Israeli media. Palestinian television in Ramallah was also reportedly considered for Netanyahu's first interview. 

A article on Al Arabiya's website carries a headline that "Netanyahu cautiously supports Syrian revolt but leaves Palestinians empty handed."  Maybe. Check out what the prime minister has to say on Palestinian statehood, peace negotiations, Syrian protesters, democracy and more Thursday evening (that's evening in the Middle East). He spoke in English, with an Arabic translation.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interviewed by Al Arabiya. Credit: Al Arabiya

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